One year ago, I stepped into the political arena, committed to enact change for the betterment of the residents of Sullivan County. I have learned much about the challenges of county government and remain determined, despite the obstacles, to continue to move forward.
As a county legislator, a dairy farm business owner and a nurse, I am in a unique position to advocate for our people. Believing in the democratic process, I conducted four public forums with my fellow legislators to address the people’s issues. The priority concerns are the level of Medicaid services, the largest and most expensive state and county mandate, and the ever-increasing level of taxexempt properties.
As chair of the legislature’s Health and Family Services Committee, I have worked diligently in 2012 to change the set of expectations in the delivery of social services through county government. A wise choice was to hire the new division commissioner, Randy Parker, along with deputy commissioner, David Sager, who in a few short weeks identified tremendous savings for our county taxpayers while advocating for our needy.
To redefine Sullivan County as protecting our needy while preserving the taxpayer, I have formed a Health and Family Advisory Panel to identify cost savings. A Fraud Investigative Team (FIT), to be led by a chief fraud investigator to aggressively address waste, fraud, or abuse in the system, is proposed as well. The goal is to ensure every dollar of Medicaid goes to our disabled, seniors, veterans, children and our homeless. Efforts to address high costs of emergency housing, Medicaid transportation and out-of-county people seeking benefits are also ongoing.
In 2013, the aim will be to address much-needed legislation to put pressure at the state level to focus on the unsustainable level of tax exemptions. Sullivan County’s level of tax exemptions is higher than many counties in the state and a renewed effort is needed to bring long awaited relief. Also necessary are renewed efforts focusing on limits to tax abatements within the county.
To improve government for the people, I will continue to advocate for open government. Conducting business behind closed doors in a caucus setting, with the majority party separated from the minority party, severely limits the flow of information necessary to make vital decisions on the appropriations of tax dollars. Every effort must be made to improve communication as well as to deliver clearly defined policy.
The current tentative budget proposes a near 14% tax increase. This is well above what is acceptable given the level of home foreclosures and struggling businesses. To lift any further devastating tax burden, I voted against an override of the 2% tax cap and feel a vote for a double-digit tax increase is completely irresponsible. Therefore, I have provided a comprehensive list of recommendations for savings to be reviewed. The reality is, with little revenue besides sales tax and property tax, it is inevitable that we must cut services. As we prepare to vote on the county budget on December 20, I realize any decisions made will be met with opposition, however, I was elected to represent 77,000 residents of Sullivan County.
I have heard you loud and clear.
Cindy Kurpil Gieger
Sullivan County Legislator